Jesus told his followers several times that he expected to be killed. But he insisted that this was not just the tragic outcome of a revolutionary life; it was God’s plan. It was as if he considered his death to be the most important part of his life. He was the central figure in a scheme of God through which all the world would gain an incalculable benefit. He claimed that, because of what was about to happen, the world would be saved.
The last week of Jesus’ life brought him face to face with Pontius Pilate, the governor whom the Roman authorities had placed in Jerusalem. Pilate had dealt with the Jews in a brutal and confrontational way.
It was the week of Passover, the most important Jewish festival, so the city thronged with visitors. It was the anniversary of an event in which Pilate had Jewish pilgrims murdered in their own temple, so tensions were high. Jewish belief was that when their long-expected leader, the Christ (or Messiah), rallied them to overthrow the Roman army it would be at Passover time – a festival that celebrates freedom from oppression.
Jesus’ disciples, frightened but fascinated, wondered whether this would be the moment when he would establish God’s Kingdom by driving the enemy out of Jerusalem. But Jesus had other ideas.
Jesus entered Jerusalem in mockery of Pontius Pilate. The Jews had frequently seen Pilate ride into Jerusalem from his summer residence in the west, riding a magnificent horse and circled by soldiers. Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east, surrounded by cheering pilgrims, and riding a donkey. Jewish writings pictured God’s King arriving in the city on a donkey.
By parodying the Roman governor Jesus was forcing the crowd to a point of decision. Would they tolerate an empire in which people were kept downtrodden by a Caesar hundreds of miles away? Or would they rally to the Kingdom of God that Jesus had announced, in which the oppressed went free, the poor heard good news, and the suffering found healing? Jesus was doing just what the Christ was expected to do. But he wasn’t doing it with weapons. He was doing it with all the joy of a festival.
The crowd who accompanied Jesus that day acclaimed him as the Christ, shouting ‘Hosanna!’ (which means ‘God save us!’). They ripped olive branches from the trees, waved palm leaves from the market, and threw their cloaks under his feet in the traditional style by which kings were proclaimed. Unexpectedly, Jesus responded not with heroics, but by weeping. He foresaw carnage in a place where he longed for peace.
After creating political turmoil, Jesus went on to challenge the Jewish religious leaders. He went to the temple and preached his distinctive message. Every person of every nation was entitled to pray to God. Traders in the temple courtyard had been operating a system under which only goods approved by the temple authorities, which they sold at an extortionate profit, could be used in worship. Infuriated, Jesus hurled their furniture and merchandise around.
Jesus was making powerful enemies, but because the crowd on his side was huge and growing daily, the authorities found it very difficult to know how to stop him.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
[Jesus] entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers.’ Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.
Where to find it:
About these words:
Jesus very often quoted from the Bible (what we know as the Old Testament) and demanded that the religious leaders answered the question, ‘So why aren’t you doing this?’ This accounts for both his popularity with ordinary people, and the threat he posed to the authorities.
And they said…
Joan Osborne’s 1996 worldwide hit was titled:
What if God was one of us?
Karl Barth, Swiss theologian, 1886-1968:
Jesus does not give recipes to show the way to God, as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way.